Getting Back to Work After Taking a Leave of Absence

By Katherine Muniz
September 12, 2016

Adjusting to working again after taking a leave of absence can be challenging to say the least. Whatever you may be returning from, whether it be maternity leave, recovering from an illness, or caring for a sick loved one, you can successfully transition back into the workplace by creating a smart plan of action to guide your return.

Set up a meeting with your supervisor

Before returning to work, you’ll want to touch base with your supervisor or HR manager. Set up a meeting and come prepared to discuss all the details of your return. Depending upon your personal circumstances, you may be returning with special healthcare needs, caretaking responsibilities, or simply require a more flexible schedule.

Take the opportunity to bring up these concerns and don’t be ashamed to ask if the company can moderately accommodate you. Once you return to work you may still need to make private phone calls or even a few minutes alone to decompress – anticipate your needs and express them during this time in order to discuss how these needs will be met.

Likewise, the meeting shouldn’t solely focus on your needs. What about your job? Has anything changed? In your absence, your responsibilities may have shifted and changes may have been made to your role within the organization. Others may have shifted their positions to successfully cover your workload. Express your desire to be fully debriefed so that you can return to work prepared and up to speed.

Consider asking for a transition period or flex scheduling

You might be a new mom or dad, someone still battling a health issue, or someone grieving the loss of a loved one. If you’re still in the midst of dealing with personal issues, inquire about the possibility of flex work. New parents or caretakers may need to spend more time at home now that their responsibilities have changed. Returning to work on a part-time basis or on a more flexible schedule (i.e. part-time remote, part-time in office), can enormously benefit you if you’re not able to simultaneously meet the needs of home combined with the demands of full-time in-office work.

Notify coworkers you’re friendly with

If you have work friends, let them know that your leave is ending and you’ll be returning to work soon. Having colleagues in your corner who support you and care about your transition can help you ease your way back into the swing of things. With their support and intel, you can learn about everything you’ve missed in your absence and what to expect when you get back. While you may have already met with your supervisor to bring yourself up to speed, colleagues can provide a different account of work conditions, especially if they work in your department.

Make your first day gracious

Tentative about being welcomed back into the fold? Don’t be. Though it can feel oddly scary and new, you can start your first day back on the right foot by making a kind gesture to your colleagues. Consider bringing in some tasty treats or writing personal notes to convey your appreciation to them for soldiering on in your absence. Your gesture will highlight your return positively and will be viewed as a token of gratitude. What better way to reacquaint yourself?

Show that you’ve still got it

No doubt one of your biggest goals returning to work is to prove that you can do the job that’s been waiting for you, and do it well. If you want to hit the floor running, it’s important that you stay sharp during your leave, and keep up with your profession during your time out of the office. By turning to resources like papers, articles, training, and trends, you can return with knowledge of any changes or new initiatives during your absence, and the latest industry developments. Staying connected with colleagues and employers can help too.

Prepare for questions about your absence

If you’ve been away for a prolonged period of time, it’s to be expected that you’ll receive questions about why you were away. In considering how to respond, be honest to yourself — how much do you want to share? If you value your privacy, know that you aren’t obligated to tell your colleagues the cause of your absence. Simply thank them for their concern, and tell them you’re not prepared to talk about things just yet.

Don’t doubt yourself

You may return to work with fears that you’ve already been displaced and are no longer a valued member of the company. This feeling may be intensified on your first day back, especially if the “welcome back!”s aren’t particularly enthusiastic. However, you have skills and gifts that are unique to you and you only. It’s important that you reassure yourself and return with a positive attitude that doesn’t waver at the first sign of adversity. It’s a given that you want to be welcomed back with open arms, but not every workplace is staffed with considerate and congenial personalities.

Try to ease back into the swing of things and be gracious and diplomatic. The rest will fall into place. If you’re a professional soon to be returning to the workforce, good luck! By communicating openly and honestly about your concerns and needs, and returning focused and ready to contribute, your transition back into the ole’ 9-5 should go smoothly.

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